Update: How you can help struggling family
Deborah Walker, center, shares a home with her son, David, 16, and mother, Katherine Woodruff, 82.
October 6th, 2011
03:34 PM ET

Update: How you can help struggling family

Editor's note: After this item first appeared in late August, many readers offered to assist the Walker family in various ways. Catholic Charities of the Diocese of San Diego is now connecting the family with sources of assistance. If you would like to contribute, please send checks, gift cards (Albertsons, Target, Walmart) or goods to: Case Management Services, Catholic Charities of San Diego, 349 Cedar St. Room 101, San Diego, CA 92101; include Deborah Walker's name in a note or on the check's memo line. Secure online donations also may be made through the Catholic Charities website. Clothing donations: David wears 38/34 pants, XL shirts and size 13 shoes.

[Original post, published August 24, 2011] Widowed mother Deborah Anne Walker was struggling financially when the economy turned sour in the fall of 2008. She is disabled and couldn't afford school clothes for her 13-year-old son, so she ended up having him wear her jeans, and other children teased him.

"You just have to keep thinking, 'OK, what is the one thing we have left that we can live without the most?' " she told CNN in September 2008. " ... I don't understand why, every time there is a crisis, it's the poor, disabled, children and seniors who end up having to pay for it."

Some kindhearted CNN.com users and members of her church came through with help for the family that fall, but the underlying economic conditions didn't improve, and Walker's situation may be even more dire now than it was then.

When CNN asked Walker, 50, of Vista, California, for an update, here's what she wrote:

There have been a number of changes since last we spoke. My elderly mother (Katherine Woodruff, 82) is living with us now. She had a fall, and a mild heart attack, and her doctor said she couldn't live upstairs anymore. So, I brought her home with me.

David has been diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome, which is a form of autism. He is in a day treatment facility [Discovery Hills and Valley], where they get their academic (lessons) and therapy. This change has helped him very much.

[The San Diego County school district operates Discovery Hills and Valley, where special-needs students attend classes and receive medical care and prescriptions at no cost to the family. A bus provides door-to-door service.]

We still struggle to make it through each month. We have had a couple rent increases and no cost-of-living increase. It's been hard.

I have to take my mother to all of her appointments, bathe her, feed her, administer her meds, and the list goes on. ... I had to quit my part-time job [as a home health aide] because I needed to be home more because of my mother and my son's conditions. David has grown A LOT, and doesn't have many clothes that fit him.

[David, now 16, is nearly 6 feet tall and 245 pounds, Walker said in an interview.]

I'm doing much better emotionally. I have a couple of excellent doctors, and am not as depressed as I was.

It's still a BIG struggle financially. Right now, we can't drive the car because the tags are expired, and I can't afford the registration fees. We barely make it through the month without running out of groceries. We have had to cut out anything we didn't HAVE to have, like the cell phones. I don't know how I'm going to find the money to get the tags renewed, and I am the only transportation for the three of us. Between my medical problems and David's and my mother's, we have quite a few doctor appointments every month, and no way to get there!

[Her mother put off an eye appointment this month, hoping to reschedule when the family has transportation again, Walker said. Walker uses an old baby stroller to carry groceries home from a store in her neighborhood. "People look at me funny, walking down the street with an empty stroller, but you gotta do what you gotta do," she said.]

I think it's hardest on David. He's a teenager, and needs things, like clothes that fit, to keep from getting teased at school. He's depressed lately because we can never go out to Jack in the Box, or the movies, or even just to 7-11 for a Slurpee, because there just isn't any money.

[The family subsists on Walker's Supplemental Security Income (disability) check and Woodruff's Social Security.]

So ... I am kept very busy taking care of David and my mother. I still have faith in God, and hope for things to improve, even if only slightly. Somehow, I'm holding this family together.

Thanks for taking an interest. Most of the time, it seems like nobody cares about us. I get down, but I always drag myself back up. Quitters never win, and winners never quit!

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Filed under: California • Economy • Jobs • Most Intriguing People • U.S.
soundoff (981 Responses)
  1. CTHTX

    I don't know California, but are there not area rapid transit systems that will come pick you up for doctor's appointments? Texas has these, but I wasn't sure about California. Additionally, we have clothing exchanges that benefit the young people who cannot afford them. Maybe CA can do something like that. We did a clothing drive and had people from all over donate, then we let the kids who needed clothes go through them first, followed by women and men who were down on their luck. I love clothing "recycling". I know, not the main point of the story and these situations are just band aids, but they could help out at least temporarily, no?

    August 24, 2011 at 6:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • Johnbe

      In California, there are so many people, so many organizations that you get caught in a maze. There are those organizations but they are hard to find. Your neighbors, teachers, counselors, church leaders don't know. You can find things if the closets are almost bare but not so if the closets are full. Plus she doesn't have a phone or internet so it would be impossible to find organizations to help on her own. What gets me upset is we are having so much cutbacks while corporations are having windfall profits while the poor, disabled and elderly gets shafted.

      August 24, 2011 at 7:17 pm | Report abuse |
  2. RiadaKram

    People who say "mean people suck" suck. Tell the 16 year old to get a damn job!

    August 24, 2011 at 6:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • Laurie

      He has Asperger's AND no mode of transportation. Maybe he could cut lawns in the neighborhood for money, but that's about it.

      August 24, 2011 at 6:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • mrX

      How about drug dealing? THAT's a job and pays a lot more than flippin' burgers at Mickey Ds!

      August 24, 2011 at 6:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • Barry

      Hey Kram:

      You did read about the Aspbergers in the article right? A job doing what? For what pay?

      August 25, 2011 at 12:27 am | Report abuse |
  3. jan

    why aren't people asking how to help out? I would like to know.

    August 24, 2011 at 6:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • jwest

      I am also wondering this! I would love to help them out.

      August 24, 2011 at 7:07 pm | Report abuse |
  4. fgm

    A disabled, widow....caring for her somewhat disabled child and elderly mother. Who cares if she smokes? She deserves to smoke if that is what it takes to get her through the stress of her incredibly difficult life. Yoga would be a better option or working out, but wait she has no money and is disabled,so that might be a bit hard to swing. I don't like smoking, but I certainly wouldn't judge a poor person or a rich person for relying on a crutch to handle hard times. Should no one care because she might not be perfect?

    August 24, 2011 at 6:49 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Luis

    How can we help this family? Please let me know.

    August 24, 2011 at 6:53 pm | Report abuse |
  6. mrX

    I have asperger syndrome, but I was LUCKY enough to grow up in an (upper)middle class family. David has what I have, but without that advantage. Then again, my italian grandfather grew up poor and had to go to work for his family at the age of 13 because his father had a stroke and couldn't work his minimum wage job. Hard work just isn't enough anymore to survive in this society. If I were David I might even go so far as to steal, shoplift, and sell dope just to support my family. I know those things are illegal and wrong, but that's better than starving.

    August 24, 2011 at 6:54 pm | Report abuse |
  7. macuy

    To CNN's Jim Kavanagh FAIL! How can we help?

    August 24, 2011 at 6:54 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Dan

    So how can we donate to help this family?

    August 24, 2011 at 6:55 pm | Report abuse |
  9. CLB

    You always think you have it bad until you hear someone else's story? CNN, how can we help this family?

    August 24, 2011 at 6:57 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Pam

    I feel most sorry for the son. It is hard enought just to fit in and not having enough clothes makes it much worse.

    August 24, 2011 at 6:57 pm | Report abuse |
  11. PSuzanne

    I would not want to walk a mile in her shoes. Compassion seems to be minimal these days.

    August 24, 2011 at 6:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • jim

      I know Im not supposed to say it but I have none.

      August 24, 2011 at 7:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • Robita

      Nice Jim, good to know there are people like you who want to see a better world. May every french fry you eat be cold.

      August 24, 2011 at 7:23 pm | Report abuse |
    • MattC

      And with good reason, if you ask me. I haven't read anything in this article about how much money Social Security is giving them, or if Medicare is covering grandma's hospital bills, or why she hasn't moved from a place that keeps increasing the rent when rent control is an option... what I did read, however, was her son was depressed cause he's not getting Jack-In-The-Box and they have to cut their cell phones off and she has to use a baby stroller to bring groceries home. So here's my suggestions:

      1. Find someone who can help her figure out how to budget money.
      2. Put your son on a diet. 16 yrs old and he's 245 lbs? THAT'S HEAVIER THAN AN NFL LINEBACKER!!!!
      3. Call the Dept of Labor and find the boy a job. Asperger's doesn't mean you can't let him out in public like some freak, but if you treat it like that, he'll get worse and worse.
      4. Find out if they qualify for rent control (and I really can't see them not).

      Here's what you don't do:

      1. Blame those of us who are suffering (admittedly not as badly, but still suffering) of being pigs and making this country stink. It's not people like us, who believe if you do things to help your situation (like not feeding a 16yr old enough for him to become grossly obese) you can survive in rougher situations. It's those people who call those of us who believe the old parable "if you give a man a fish..." that you're lump suming.

      2. Don't judge us and then use that tired old "judge not lest ye be judged".

      3. Don't throw anything into a sinking ship that won't stop it from sinking.

      August 24, 2011 at 7:46 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Marilyn

    Bless all of you which want to help. Shame on all of you which are slinging insults & hatred! However you are able to help, do not send cash; she will lose benefits if she's honest & reports. For you idiot mudslingers who know nothing about disabilities, 'safety-nets', etc., David has very difficult disease which varies from person to person. Since this lady has strictly SSI, she never worked long enough for SS Disability. Her mother worked, paid taxes, & is disabled. 10yrs ago, there was over 2yr waiting 4 housing assist in CA. 1 person said husband deceased. Who knows? My ex is frm family of judges, BUT 'disappeared' & neither his family wld help nor cld either CA or his homestate locate him. He wrote son off so wldn't have to pay child support. God Bless this woman & may she keep her Faith. I, personally, lost home to mold, lived in tents on my property, & sent son to live with pseudo-dad in CA. Someone nasty here going to call ME "Lazy" because of various disabilities & surgeries I need, but can't get just yet, due to blood disorder? (& No, disorder has nothing to do with immoral acts!). All You Repugs want to corral us elderly, disabled, & poverty stricken up & shoot us so we're not a "burden" to You, though we paid our dues?? How dare ya'll blame Obama! Had the DoD not paid such high enlistment bonuses, we would be back in Draft era. Repugs signed deal w/devil & big part of reason our country is failing. PS, reason I said don't send this woman cash is because while I was temporarily on TANF, I reported cans I'd collected & that decreased assistance my son & I received. Lady of story, keep faith, remember that 'Everything in life happens for a reason' & 'That which doesn't kill me will only make me stronger!'. Bless all of u who desire to help those in need. To the selfish, self-centered others who care nothing about ur fellow humans, I PRAY you experience MAJOR Hardships & Loss and find yourself Majorly Humbled having to seek assistance in some way, form, or fashion. You selfish PIGS destroyed great USofA.

    August 24, 2011 at 6:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • evoc

      I support most of what you wrote. But, never pray for hardships for others. If you are a Christian, be a true Christian. Pray for others to have their eyes and hearts opened, and to be filled with compassion for the difficulty others have. Live in Grace.

      August 24, 2011 at 7:25 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Jen93312

    Please tell us how we can help.

    August 24, 2011 at 6:59 pm | Report abuse |
  14. heehawgoat

    In California Mom 82 gets disability and all those needs that her daughter says she helps her with are funded by in-home support services. California will pay you to stay home with a disabled family member. The son has Aspergers once again another big check, depending on the severity she can get paid to take care of her son as well. I estimate both of those SSI checks are total of 1800 bucks and those In-home health checks are close to 3600 or more a month. I'm being nice with my estimates... I'm not saying this lady doesn't have it tough, physically yes a tough job, but the Government is on her side. I work in healthcare so I know the figures. bottom line I'm not losing sleep over this story.

    August 24, 2011 at 7:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • roodee

      seriously? is that where we're at with compassion in this country.... you're counting up the numbers so you don't have to "feel sorry" for her and her poor family?? that's horrible. i hope you are blessed in all you have and do... you should wish the same for others that are struggling by no fault of their own.

      August 24, 2011 at 7:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • Robita

      Obviously you are wrong. If they had that much money they could pay for stuff. I guess you have no idea what you're talking about.

      August 24, 2011 at 7:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • jim

      Emotions can only take you so far and serve their purpose. Most problems are solved through rational thought and sometimes that means counting the numbers. Unfortunately that wont move you to tears but it helps this women out and in turn helps us all.

      August 24, 2011 at 7:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • Robita

      @Jim... Um, so how is it rational to have so many poor people. From a practical standpoint our society is better when we take care of the old and the poor. Less crime, more education, clean cities, less waste. I can go on, but people like you Jim, you don't understand because you get to eat every day. I bet you are a big fat ____ too.

      August 24, 2011 at 7:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • heehawgoat

      No... you people are wrong. No one ever does research on the people that they do stories on anymore. California's poor live better than most states middle class, if their not so challenged to get up and apply for assistance. Just forsake of argument lets say she doesn't have these services then she can apply for them and she would recieve them in a matter of weeks.

      August 24, 2011 at 7:28 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Jenna

    I came across this article on CNN and I live relatively close to the town where this family resides. Is there a way we can get in touch with them and donate in some way?

    August 24, 2011 at 7:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • sean

      please let me know if you make contact with them as I would like to help too

      August 24, 2011 at 7:20 pm | Report abuse |
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